As the December festive season draw closer, thoughts often turn to taking the family for a sunny celebration either during or after the holidays. If you're looking for a last-minute holiday vacation that offers something for everyone, consider a cruise. Cruises from close-to-home ports will take your family to those same palm-studded tropical beaches, often for less than the price of a round-trip international air ticket.
One of the most expensive parts of a holiday spent in the tropics is the airfare. Last minute international air availability can be difficult to procure over the holidays and prices are often sky high. Cruise lines have positioned their ships in a variety of locations that are within driving distance of major cities, however, making these drive-to holiday cruise vacations easier and less expensive. Carnival Cruise Lines estimates that approximately half of the U.S. population lives within a reasonable driving distance of one of its North American homeports.
During the December holiday seasons, cruise lines offer sailings from a wide variety of U.S. ports including New York, NY; Bayonne, NJ; Baltimore, MD; Charleston, SC; Jacksonville, FL; Port Canaveral, FL; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Miami, FL; Tampa, FL; New Orleans, LA; Galveston, TX; Houston (Bayport), TX; Los Angeles, CA; Honolulu, HI; San Juan, Puerto Rico and other areas. Parking can be found near all of the cruise terminals and thereís no limit to the amount of luggage and presents you can bring onboard. Staterooms are relatively small, though, so donít plan on bringing large gifts.
December holiday cruises are a wonderful option for joyful seasonal celebrations. Ships are festively adorned with decorations, elaborate holiday feasts are served, and a wide range of daily activities are planned that are sure to please every age group. Cruising works well for all types of guests. ďItís a great way to celebrate the holidays with friends, family and loved ones,Ē says Carnival Cruise Linesí managing director of sales Mike Julius, ďand best of all, no cooking or cleaning up!Ē
Cruises are also an excellent value when compared with other land-based options. Special offers are often available, even though itís the holidays. On MSC Cruises, for example, kids 11 and under cruise free if they are sharing a stateroom with two adults. The cruise line also offers special military rates on holiday sailings, providing an additional 10% off for active and retired military members and their families.
Cruise lines generally go all out for the holiday season. Santa often makes an appearance during the cruise and a variety of holiday parties and celebrations are offered. Holiday menus typically include such favorites as roast turkey with all the trimmings, venison, duck, goose, English plum pudding, pecan pie, eggnog and champagne for toasting. On Norwegian Cruise Line, shipboard culinary teams create incredible Christmas Gingerbread House and Holiday Village displays which are on view in each shipís atrium.
For those wishing to celebrate their religious traditions, a Protestant minister, a Catholic priest, and a Jewish rabbi are usually onboard each ship to lead holiday services. Check with your travel agent or your cruise line for dates and details. In addition, cruisers can take part in festive events and activities such as caroling and sing-alongs, parties with Santa, high teas, and other holiday celebrations. New Yearís sailings are particularly festive, with a wide variety of New Yearís Eve parties, balls and events for all age groups held onboard the ships.
December holiday cruises come in a wide variety of lengths and itineraries. Shorter cruises of 3 to 6 nights are offered, as are standard 7-night itineraries and longer cruises. Typical destinations include the Bahamas, Mexico and the Caribbean. When considering cruise itineraries, take a look at where youíll be on the holiday itself and even the day after. Shops and other attractions in some ports of call are closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and/or New Yearís Day. Many cruisers donít care, though, since there is plenty going on onboard their ship.
Families cruising with children should look for ships that offer lots of kid-friendly holiday activities on lines such as Carnival Cruise Lines, Disney Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean. Todayís cruise ships cater to kids and teens with extensive age-specific programming, special club and lounge areas, kidsí menu items and more. Ships on popular family-friendly cruise lines are typically packed with children over the holidays, so kids and teens will have plenty of company and can make new friends onboard.
If youíre considering taking a last-minute holiday cruise, here are a few tips:
* Book your cruise as early as possible for the best selection of staterooms, dining times and shore excursions. This is particularly true for families seeking connecting cabins or family rooms and suites.
* Select a cruise line and a ship thatís a good match with your interests. Holiday sailings can be packed with families and larger ships can have as many as a thousand or more children onboard. That can be wonderful for those traveling with kids, but not as great for those seeking a quieter, more peaceful cruise. For that group, best bets might be smaller ships such as those operated by Paul Gauguin Cruises and Un-Cruise Adventures, longer sailings, or lines that tend to cater to a slightly older crowd such as Holland America and Princess. A good cruise agent can help you find one or more options that will be a good fit.
* Ask about special discounts. Some cruise lines, such as MSC Cruises, provide military discounts across the board during the holidays. Others, such as Carnival Cruise Lines, offer discounts for military, residents and seniors on selected holiday sailings.
* Plan to arrive at your departure port a day early to give yourself some cushion, just in case of bad weather or heavy traffic.
* Bring along some festive decorations for your stateroom door and the inside of your cabin. Donít forget your snazzy holiday outfits as well.
* Make specialty dining and entertainment reservations at time of booking if possible. Norwegian Cruise Line allows guests to book dining reservations 90 days in advance. In addition, if there are several shore excursions on your ďmust doĒ list; book those in ahead of time as well.